This first test of the planetary defense mission “serves to be prepared in case it is necessary in the future.”
The asteroid Dimorphos does not represent a threat to Earth, but it is the target of a mission that, in ten days, will try to divert it from its trajectory to test the technology necessary to defend our planet and thus write “a page of space history”.
The dart mission (Binary Asteroid Redirection Test), which left Earth eleven months ago, is about to reach its destination, when next September 26 at 23:14 GMT time to crash into the asteroid about 160 meters.
A moment that can be seen live, at a rate of one photograph per minute, and the final part of a mission that will serve to validate the asteroid deflection technique that can protect the Earth in case of need, explained those responsible for the mission in a wheel virtual press.
“We are less than two weeks away from what will be humanity’s first attempt to deflect a celestial body. A historic moment for everyone”, in the words of NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office scientist Tom Statler.
Planetary defense is aglobal issue requiring a global response” y DART it is part of an Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission, in which the European Space Agency (ESA) and more than 20 countries participate.
This first test of the planetary defense mission “serves to be prepared in case it is necessary in the future”, according to Nancy Chabot, DART coordinator, and for it a binary system of asteroids has been chosen that, at the time of the shock will be about eleven million kilometers from Earth.
The asteroid system is made up of Didymos (780 meters in diameter), which is orbited by Dimorphos (160 meters, a size similar to that of the great pyramid of Giza in Egypt).
DART will launch like a kamikaze probe against the smaller body and will be sending back data and photos until the very moment it crashes, a series that will be broadcast live by NASA.
But there will also be a live observer, the small Italian satellite Licia, that it will separate from DART a few days before to observe the collision moments after and will fly over the asteroid system after the collisionaccording to Simone Pirrotta of the Italian Space Agency.
The entire process will also be followed from Earth and by various space telescopes..
The small Dimorphos has an orbit of 11 hours and 45 minutes around Dydimos and experts hope that the impact of DART, at a speed of six kilometers per second, will serve to modify its trajectory. “It is the first test to develop the technologyChabot said.
The expert said that “one of the great challenges of the mission” is that DART hits Dimorphos at high speed, as it will not distinguish between the two asteroids until the last hours of its approach.
For the mission to be successful, Statler explained, the spacecraft has to hit Dimorphos and cause a change in its orbit that can be measured, which will take a few days or weeks to detect, “we don’t know exactly,” he says.
Being able to hit Dimorphos and change its trajectory is important, but it is equally important to observe the result first-hand, the crater created, the composition of its surface and, in short, to get to know the small asteroid about which little is known until now. .
That will be the task of the Hera mission, led by the European Space Agency and that will take off in October 2024 on its way to the binary asteroid system, to examine Diomorphos in depthcoming within meters of him.
Hera, in which Spain has an important role and to which it contributes, among other technology, with the guidance, navigation and control system, will provide data that will allow a more complete evaluation of the effectiveness of the diversion technique.
Statler highlighted the importance of planetary defense and recalled that today between 95 and 98% of the large bodies near Earth are knownbut the danger of smaller ones, around 150 meters, of which approximately 40% have been located and whose impact on the planet could be devastating, cannot be ignored.